Happiness…what is it, where do you find it and how do you keep it. This deep and meaningful stuff usually fills my mind for all of thirty seconds, before I hear the reassuring pop of a cork and the soothing glug glug glug sounds of a well deserved glass being filled at the end of a long day.
Yes, there is love, adventure, inner peace and all sorts of other happy stuff but the kind you can literally bottle up, the kind that makes you swoon with utter contentment after just one taste – that’s the joyful magic of wine.
If there was ever a topic to bring the blog back from its long suffering hiatus; it’s wine. I could go in to grave detail about my whereabouts this past year; the intricate details of juggling motherhood, and the bonkers life I lead trying to bring up not one but two fiercely demanding girls into our increasingly maddening world. While I write this blog post, I’ll have had to stop typing for a myriad of reasons, one of which will definitely include having to change a dirty nappy, and rescuing my toddler from a spider/ant/fly. So if by some small miracle I actually manage to publish this, it’ll be my equivalent of an Olympic medal!
Small talk over, I’m about to share with you a rather badly kept secret…and that’s that the French are bloody good at making great wine! They can keep the escargot and even the cuisses de grenouille (that’s frogs legs to you and me) but the vin…send it over s’il vous plaît.
Before I progress with this point, I must first digress into my past (just a tiny bit promise!). My wine journey started back in my teens. Having got bored of her sickly sweet Malibu and pineapple weekend cocktails, my mother found wine. First in the equally sweet German wine; Liebfraumilch and then swiftly moving on to the giddy heights of the ever popular Le Piat D’Or. You remember…it was that charming French wine that first hit the UK by storm in the late 80’s, taking over from the iron-clad hold that black tower, blue nun and even babycham had over British spending power. It claimed to be adored by the French. It wasn’t. It was to France what chicken tikka masala is to India; absolutely sod all.
For an added laugh, here is the cringe-worthy advertising for Le Piat D’Or!
Nevertheless, my mother saw the benefits of ‘drinking French, thinking French’ and it was to be my wholesome introduction into the wonderful world of wine. Wholesome it wasn’t. It tasted ghastly but I couldn’t get enough of the unstoppable giggles. Since then, I like to think I moved up the ladder somewhat during my university days, where I ruled out the likes of Jacobs creek, Blossom hill and even Hardy’s out (call it naive snobbery or early wisdom?!) in favour of the emerging range of Sauvignon Blanc wines hailing from Marlborough, New Zealand – wherever I could find one that is (Dog Point being one of my faves) Yes, unfortunately whilst my fellow comrades where getting plastered on vodka red bulls at our student union, I was looking abysmally disappointed at the dire wine list and giving into rum and coke / vodka cranberry or the more acceptable gin and and tonic.
I am pleased to report that I have since found nirvana in a plethora of wines from across the world. Italy (all of it!), Lebanon (Chateau Musar of course), Austria (I went through a big Gruner Veltliner phase and am still partial), Greece (the rosés are particular lovely), India (Do try Sula and Grover), Hungary (it could only be Tokaji), Spain (yes the Rioja is good but Tempranillo is so underrated). Essentially I’ll drink the world. But the one country whose multiplex of wine I could live off forever has got to be France. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Aside from the obvious champagne mastery, there’s a lot of talent to be tasted, from crisp Sancerre in the Loire valley, all the way down to sunny Provence – AKA rosé heaven. And that’s without even touching on the big Bs; Burgundy and Bordeaux. There is simply no denying these guys know their stuff when it comes to outstanding viticulture.
In the past few years, I’ve made it my mission to try more styles from this great country. Chablis being one of the more recent. And so I was thrilled to be invited by the #PureChablis campaign to a night of unlimited Chablis. It was to be a supperclub like no other, curated by none other than wine aficionado Douglas Blyde. What this man doesn’t know, isn’t worth knowing. I was in for a night of education and indulgence. Not to mention nostalgia – the Andaz Liverpool Street being my wedding venue almost seven years ago!
But what is Chablis I hear you ask. It’s a region in northern district of France – Burgundy (or Borgogne), that is comprised almost entirely of Chardonnay vines, producing a dry white wine. The chalky clay landscape plays a vital component in producing a pure Chardonnay, one that is acidic, citrus yet mineral.
We kicked off with a young yet incredibly punchy Petit Chablis – Pas Si Petit’ Petit Chablis 2014 from co-operative; La Chablisienne. It’s very name dictating it’s ‘not so petit’ personality. In France, a Petit Chablis is considered far more junior to the golden, ripe senior Chablis wines of the region. It’s lemon zesty, refreshing and steely character made it a perfect accompaniment to the addictively-good crab and avocado cucumber rolls, made by one of three supperclub hosts on the night; Nordish. I’d now definitely keep a petit Chablis in mind not only as an aperitif but also to go with seafood and sushi.
For those who prefer something a little more leggy but in keeping with the region’s flinty character, Alain Geoffroy’s 2014 Chablis would fit the bill. It was still fresh enough to enjoy with seafood dishes – we enjoyed it with pan fried whiting, summer salad and tempura samphire put together by Hana of pickled plates. However, the hint of ripe fruits and herbaceous notes that danced a merry jig on the palate, made it a far more savvy Chablis.
For our third course, we were presented with a Japanese inspired dish; soy and miso glazed pork chop, spring onion rice and a crunchy raw slaw with rice vinegar and chilli dressing, by Rosie of A Little Lusciousness. By this point I was borderline giddy with the stealthy glass top ups and Douglas effortlessly weaving between seductive rhetoric and passionate poetry, as he enthused over the virtues of Chablis.
For this dish, Douglas chose Julien Brocard’s La Boissonneuse 2014. A fresh yet fruity combination, in some ways not too dissimilar to a punchy Reisling (not the sweet German apple pie kind) but with oak influence from its partial fermentation in large oak vats – a process rare in Chablis wines. The wine also comes from one of the first organic and biodynamic vineyards in the region. Biodynamic being the holistic method of organic (pesticide free) farming, first conceptualised by Austrian philosopher, scientist and playwright, Rudolf Steiner. I’m not too au fait with this concept, and it’s never played a vital role in my wine buying but I’m told this wine uses nettles, sage and lavender as a homeopathic application for the vines (along with cow manure). And I must say I certainly picked up on enhanced herbaceous notes in the wine (thankfully not the manure!), so it certainly added an extra dimension.
The best evenings I’ve ever had have ended with cheese (you thought I was going to say something else right?!) and this was no exception. We were served an England Vs France ‘cheese off’ alongside a veritable fleet of bolder more powerful Premier Cru and Grand Cru. For me, it was England all the way. You know of my blue cheese fetish, so the Stichelton from Nottinghamshire stole my heart with its creamy, tangy dreaminess. And even though I’m a big Comté fan i wasn’t nearly as smooth, nutty or rich in flavour, as the Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury, Somerset.
Douglas’ pick of wines to wash the cheeseboard down with, included:
Domaine William Fevre, Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012
Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012
Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008
Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2008
By this point I honestly couldn’t give you sound tasting notes even if I wanted to *hiccup*, except to say that I fell considerably in love with the 2008 Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru and that it goes exceptionally well with mature cheddar.
There are not many experiences in life that are as intoxicating for the mind as they are on the body. Perhaps this is what the 60’s was like for the flower power lot, I thought. Leaving the Andaz, our commune for the night, I was in a zen-like state. Blissfully aware of the new found knowledge our guru had so zealously imparted. For happiness can be found in a glass of wine (and a plate of cheese). Especially when the wine is a Chablis.
N.B. I was a guest of Douglas Blyde and the #PureChablis PR team but all views and opinions are my very own and not bought. If you are sceptical, grab yourself a bottle of Chablis. I defy you to dislike it!